It's healthy to express sorrow or anger or fear. But tension emotional or otherwise is not useful to the body. Its debilitating effects on blood circulation, muscle response, and the immune system have been well documented.
Breaking the Circuit of Tension
We have seen that the mind imposes tension on the body and is the source of emotional turmoil. But until we master the mind, how do we break the harmful circuit of mental stress that becomes emotional and physical tension?
Follow this technique to regain emotional equanimity:
TENSE, SHAKE, BREATHE, AND RELAX
- Deliberately tense your whole body as tightly as you can for three to five seconds, while holding your breath.
- Then gently shake your body.
- Next, stand tall, as if your head were suspended in space from a string and breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly from your lower belly. Let the breath bring a sense of deep relaxation.
Undoing emotional habits formed over the years isn't easy, but we can do it. In any moment, you have the capacity to breathe deeply, relax, and let go. Allow rather than resist what arises inside or out in the present moment. Let it be interesting rather than "good" or "bad." In this way, we reawaken true emotion, the energy to act.
Breath and Feeling
"Inspiration," in addition to its usual connotation, also means to breathe in. The breath is a key to your emotional state because it both reflects and can control your level of tension. Learning to breathe properly, with full feeling, gives you the ability quite literally to "inspire" yourself. The natural athlete, like the infant, breathes naturally, from deep in the body, with slow, full, relaxed, and balanced inhalations and exhalations.
To understand your emotional state and to gain mastery over emotions, it's essential that you begin to observe and gain conscious control over your breathing. Breath awareness and discipline were central to the teachings of the most ancient spiritual traditions. Yogis, Zen masters, and martial artists have all placed great emphasis on breathing properly.
The one unifying link between mind and body is the breath. Meditation deals with the mind but could also be called a physical relaxation exercise. Relaxation exercises, in turn, deal with the body but could also be called meditation exercises. Both body and mind are intimately related to the emotions through awareness of the breath. The various approaches to well-being demonstrate the intimate relationship of the three centers: physical, mental, and emotional. Meditation practices center around insight and release of thought. As thoughts are released, emotions flow naturally, and the body relaxes. Coming from another direction, you can emphasize relaxation of the body. As the body relaxes, the mind tends to become quiet as well, and the emotions open. All the various approaches to well-being are only ways to reawaken the natural athlete within us.
If you were to observe your breathing for a few hours during the day, you would notice periods of fitful breathing, with starts and stops, holding of the breath, tension in the chest area, limiting the breathing to shallow gulps of air in the upper chest. If you studied your breathing - and that of others over a long period of time- you would see that the three primary emotional obstructions, sorrow, and fear - are each characterized by an imbalance in breathing. Anger is reflected by weak inhalation and forceful, exaggerated exhalation. Sorrow (as in sobbing) is characterized by spasmodic, fitful inhalation and weak exhalation. Fear can result in very little breathing at all. As you develop awareness of your breathing patterns through conscious intent, you can become responsible for the recognition of reactive patterns as error and can then use the breath as a key method of balancing body, mind, and emotions.